Contemporary Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Ed Bullins

b. 1935

ED BULLINS was born on July 2, 1935, in Philadelphia, the son of Edward and Bertha Marie ( Queen) Bullins.He grew up in the tough black ghetto of north Philadelphia and, in spite of his mother's encouragement to finish high school, dropped out in 1952 to join the navy. After three years he returned to Philadelphia, enrolling in night school and leaving for Los Angeles City College in 1958. During this period he married and had several children, although little is known about them.

At Los Angeles City College Bullins encountered black intellectuals who encouraged his writing. It was at this time that he first experimented with playwriting, although none of his works were staged until he began attendance in the creative writing program at San Francisco State College in 1964. His first play, How Do You Do? ( 1965), reflects the absurdist drama of Samuel Beckett and Eugene lonesco but also focuses sharply on racial issues. Many of Bullins's plays feature characters brutalized by poverty, violence, and racism, and he would later face criticism from the black community for such "negative" portrayals. Because of his uncompromising subject matter, Bullins found increasing difficulty in staging his plays, so he founded several production companies of his own and, in 1965, helped to establish Black House, a political and cultural organization that included Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, LeRoi Jones ( Amiri Baraka), and others and served for a time as a base for the Black Panthers. A few years later, however, the group dissolved through internal dissension.

In the mid- 1960s Bullins met a young black director, Robert Macbeth, who invited him to come to New York to participate in the newly formed New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. Bullins did so in 1967, and the next year three of his plays (initially titled The Electronic Nigger and Others but later changed to the less incendiary Three Plays) were produced to good reviews. Bullins won the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award for these plays, and his first collection, Five Plays, appeared in 1969.

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